S.E.T.I. – The Sphere Of Density 2CD Zoharum 2020
Andrew Lagowski’s long-standing project continues to forge ahead with his now trademark deep space focused drone/dark ambient musings. For this recent release it features an album of new studio material, in addition to a live recording from the 2019 Wroclaw Industrial Festival.
For the studio material, it is characterised by galactic scale drifting drones, and with only five tracks spanning 114 minutes, it gives a clear hint at the slow pacing and evolution of The Sphere Of Density. Coupled with the monolithic widescreen drones are the tasteful use of sparsely melodious synths provide a hint of musicality and on occasion rise towards a tonal level which provides an oblique nod to the early Berlin school sound. Also of note, while the swelling melodious progressions are of a particular minor key scale, they are not overtly dark, rather contemplative and drifting in atmosphere. Sparse ‘alien-esque’ rhythmic phrases also appear on occasion but are subtle and unobtrusive while functionally adding an enigmatic mood. Yet the final track 11th Dimension stands out from the rest, with the inclusion of transmission signals and scattered radio chatter against a heavier and more forceful cosmic churn.
The live recording on the second disc was evidently based on improvisation and consequently differs from the studio material. Although the sonic undercurrent is still drone-ambient in flavour, the overall execution is slightly more post-industrial tinged, where tonal slashes, sonic shards and mechanised rhythmic whir variously interjects over the singular 40-minute span. The end result is both a sonically strong and enjoyable, but also mostly feels to be a bonus disc rather than equal half to the studio album.
Perhaps as an overall observation, Andrew has released pinnacle-level material for literally decades now, which makes it all the more difficult to stand out against his own discography. Yet sidestepping such a suggestion of Andrew needing to complete with himself, simply put The Sphere Of Density is yet another superb stellar sonic journey, where the vastness of deep space slowly unfurls within the inner mind’s eye. Six-panel digipack with exquisite graphic design rounds out the presentation of an excellent release.
Shrine & Mytrip – Descent 7”EP Amek Collective / Corvus Records 2022
For this short two-track release, these two Bulgarian artists have teamed up with an apparent intent on bridging the gap between their respective sounds. To be a little more specific on that assertion, Shine are typically known for deep cinematic dark ambience tinged with organic toned field recordings, while Mytrip is concerned with electronic-ambient soundscapes which also push towards rhythmic and beat-driven spheres.
The first track is Ruin Dweller is concerned with inky black tonal washes, deep guttural drones and lighter echoed textures to provide the perception of sonic depth. Minimalist orchestral synth pads provide a melodious edge, and a mid-paced flow pushing the track forwards its six or so minutes pass rather quickly. The flip side brings Dark Rays of Light which is a tad (‘ahem’) lighter, where the soundscape has a slightly less forceful ebb and flow, instead settles into a central melodious churn. Of note, the minimalist rhythmic textures sitting within the background have a clear fingerprint of Mytrip, while the widescreen shimmering textures bring clearly to mind Shine’s approach.
Ultimately Descent is a successful release that delivers an interesting but all too short EP of sonic material that sits comfortably at the sonics midpoint of the two contributing artists. A high gloss gatefold cover completes the package.
J. Campbell – The Cormorant LP VAKNAR 2021
To start off, I know virtually nothing about this artist or the label (or the parent label VAAGNER), although what initially caught my eye was the consistent visual aesthetic and clean design of the labels’ releases. It then transpires that the artist J. Campbell is Australian, while the music is bracketed under ambient and modern classical descriptors.
With The Cormorant being my introduction to the musical works of J. Campbell, this album has been on high rotation in recent months. An aching melancholia permeates all aspects of this album, where field records of gentle waves, floating synths, ebbing drones, and minimal static washes blend and interweave. The occasional use of sparse piano lines, violins and vocals interject a more direct melodious focus to proceedings, which generates a quite cinematic soundtrack-styled edge. More broadly, the pacing is slow and unhurried, where the compositional elements (field recordings, sparse atonal sonic clatter, melodious synth drones, and composed/processed instrumentation), are highly detailed and balanced, while the spacious widescreen production is of enveloping warmth, rather than cold detachment.
While the ambient and modern classical descriptors might be an overly dry assessment of what is sonically delivered, to this ear the overarching mood and atmosphere is strongly comparable to the dreamy ambient washes of Fennesz, as well as the more musically melancholy moments of Ben Frost’s recorded works. Yet, not wanting to be completely reductive on the basis of comparisons alone, these are mainly used to indicate the pinnacle musical level which The Cormorant inhabits. The physical edition vinyl is limited to a mere 90 copies, but also available digitally for wider distribution, particularly benefiting of an album that should be heard by a much wider audience.
Tehôm – Phobos CD Zoharum 2021
Tehôm is an old name for me, being a late-1990s project who recorded two decent ritual dark ambient albums prior the untimely death of sole member Siniša Očuršćak. With Miljenko Rajaković having assisted with some recording elements on 2000’s post-humous album Theriomorphic Spirits, he then decided to reactivate the project in 2010 as a tribute to Siniša. While I note a number of Tehôm albums have been issued since the project’s reactivation they have passed me by, so I have picked up the thread again with this recent release. As vaguely alluded to by the title, this is a live recording of Tehôm’s performance at the 2019 Phobos Festival (Wuppertal, Germany).
As with the earliest phase of the project, Phobos inhabits ritual dark ambient spheres. Thus earthen drones, guttural horns, and archaic ritualised sounds abound across the eight untitled interlinking movements. Pacing as expected is catatonically slow, wherein the most part deep percussive thuds function to articulate elemental forces rather than resembling human-derived rhythms, although a passage of tribal driven beat does appear in the latter half of the album. Additionally, moody orchestral-toned drones provide a melodious edge, while a human element sporadically comes to the fore with intense non-lyrical vocal chants.
At a shade over 40 minutes, the album is not a lengthy one by any measure but packs an impact in that runtime all the same. Likewise with the bulk and heft of the recording, and to further mention the detailed and forceful production, clearly this is a professional soundboard recording that has benefited from further mastering treatment. A six-panel digipack with suitable imagery rounds out the physical presentation of a very enjoyable release.
Blind Ruler Cursed Land – Chrysantheme Delirium MC Rum Fixion Records 2021
Blind Ruler Cursed Land is a side project to UGFC which takes a slightly different thematic slant by: ‘exploring various shades of cultural & moral decline, post-defeat societies and dark esoteric “fanaticism” fascinations’. With some further investigation, Chrysantheme Delirium appears to be the debut tape from the project (after a couple of digital singles from 2020), while thematically focusing on Imperial Japan.
Musically speaking the sonics issued under the Blind Ruler Cursed Land name is not worlds apart from the main project, although its stylistic framework is based more on drone and dark ambient with only fleeting tinges of martial industrial inspiration. Four interlinking compositions deliver a combined runtime of around 20 minutes of material, where the pacing is slow and atmospheric, letting musical segments slowly shift and change in a controlled drone-ambient manner. More specifically synth-based orchestral textures, looped structural drones, and various choir vocals are used, which functions to balance the sound somewhere between whimsical, melancholic, and uplifting. However, the final of four tracks In This Sign You Shall Perish introduces overt martial industrial elements, featuring air raid bombing sounds, speech samples, distant martial percussive pulse, and a rising storm of muted distortion, before the tape concludes with a sample of a stirringly nostalgic 1940’s era Japanese song.
To conclude on the album’s chosen theme, the promo text reveals: ‘Imperial Japan symbolism is just one gate left opened for you to come. Tread softly, but come wholeheartedly!’, which functions as oblique instructions for a sonically strong release. A full-colour, fold-out, doubled-sided j-card and transparent lurid fluorescent green tape round out the physical presentation.
Browning Mummery – Live / Berlin & Melbourne CDr Inner City Uprising 2021
Andrew Lonsdale’s long-standing post-industrial / experimental project Browning Mummery has been reasonably active in recent years, including both new studio material as well as sporadic live performances. Obviously, the title of this album indicates the live context of this release, but in being more than a straight live recording of a single show, this album features material culled from two live performances. The liner notes further confirm the four chosen tracks cover the full history of the project by spanning the years from 1984 to 2019, where the opening track Disintegration of Personality derives from one of the earliest tapes Obiter Scripta, originally issued in 1984.
With a wonky semblance, there is a deft mechanical ebb and flow to these experimental-industrial soundscapes, while cleanly dynamic noise and a metallic rhythmic churn also underpin the general atmosphere. Each track functions as a lengthy standalone composition, where the tonal framework is detailed in the layering and construction, and which on occasion rise to segments of muted tonal ferocity. Sampled and processed vocal chants appear on Slaughterhouse Sutra, as do choppy and slightly chaotic metallic shards, and off-kilter revving tones blended with misfiring industrial-noise textures. Foreign Devils on the Amber Road further differentiates itself with driving bass and programmed percussive rhythm, where the associated choppy sampling of orchestral movements and choir vocals becomes increasing unhinged and noise infused as the track progresses. With the first three tracks being recorded in Berlin in 2015, the fourth and final track Abandoned was recorded in Melbourne in 2019, and at a show, I was able to witness in person. While this track contains many of the same sonic elements of the earlier tracks (such as a loose mechanised churn, multiple sampled vocal textures, and sub-orchestral styled movements), the atmosphere has been pulled back to a contemplative ambient-industrial soundscape.
Given the clarity and force of the sonics on display, the recordings have clearly been taken directly from the soundboard and I assume to have been further treated with suitable studio mastering for release. The end result is a recording that functions excellently as an archival document of the live performances and as standalone listening.
Soleil Satan – Les Couronnes De L’Aube CD Cipher Productions 2021
Cipher Productions has released yet another previously unknown project for me, so the promo text is then useful in providing context by placing Soleil Satan from the culturally disputed Basque region of Spain. It also clarifies the project is helmed by Miguel A. García: a sound artist ‘working mainly in the field of electro-acoustic composition and improvisation’, while this album ‘is a solemn ambient exploration of voice, guitar and electronics, recorded in a deserted factory in Bilbao’.
On this apparent debut album, an organ-like sustained drone opens proceedings and further sees other sparse acoustic, percussive and reverberating elements flit and weave. Equally the depth of the sound production functions to give a strong impression of a cavernous and echoed space, which obviously typifies the chosen abandoned factory location for the recording. Later on, sparse whispered vocals appear, as do guitars, yet the strings are played in an atypical fashion to provide for elongated and abstract droning effect. This general approach found on the opening tracks continues through the balance of the album’s 40 or so interlinked minutes. Here creaking sounds and a myriad of unidentifiable atonal elements bleed into the sonic frame and very much embedding the impression of experimental and broadly ambient framed post-industrial soundscapes. Although in a few moments the tone does push upwards towards headier and noisier sonic peaks.
A pro-pressed CD and four-panel mini-gatefold sleeve round out the visual presentation of what is an enjoyable and strongly engaging introduction to Soleil Satan.
Pterygium – A Blessing Withdrawn 7”EP Cønjuntø Vacíø 2021
Over a relatively short time span, Hank Gillet’s project Pterygium has demonstrated ambitious intent, as well as being something of a sonic chameleon that inhabits the in-between spaces between noise, dark ambient, and post-industrial spheres. Armed with this modus operandi, Hank has created a unique and now recognisable sound for Pterygium based on the well-received albums, including 2018’s Concealing the Past (via Tesco Organisation), and 2020’s Stoic Ubiquity (via No Recent Records).
For his first release on Cønjuntø Vacíø (a Spanish experimental label previously unknown to me), it is the first of Pterygium’s sounds on both vinyl as well as the shorter 7″ format. Delivering two instrumental tracks, Hank has opted to emphasise and showcase the dark ambient side of his sound. With a religious slant to the track titles (i.e. My Son, Keep Your Father’s Commandments and The Lord Is My Shepherd), this is also reflected in the sacral-tinged soundscapes, which seamlessly blend samples of ceremonial laments. Being brooding and contemplative overall, the tone stops short of edging into territories of overt sonic angst which has partially characterised earlier material.
For the sake of guiding comparisons this release would sit neatly next to the sacral post-industrial soundscapes of later-era raison d’etre, or the dark ambient side of Lussuria. As for the physical edition, this is a crystal clear, lathe cut 7”EP, with suitable sacral album artwork.
Lẽtum – The Face Of Life And Death CD Mathias Henriksson 2021
Personally, I have always viewed Lẽtum as one of the three pinnacle dark ambient projects emerging from the classic era of Cold Meat Industry, with the other two being raison d’etre and Desiderii Marginis. However, Lẽtum has ended up being lesser recognised and somewhat overshadowed given Lẽtum’s debut came out in 2001, which at that point in time the other mentioned projects were already well established. Yet now in 2021, it would be a significant mistake to continue overlooking Lẽtum given the project’s albums represent quintessential examples of sacral toned dark ambient music.
With reference to prior albums, I intently followed the project through to 2014’s The Fifth State of Grief, and while far from being a bad album I found it a slight letdown in comparison to prior releases due to some of the orchestral synth pads sounding overly synthetic, while a few melodious passages felt more suited to a dungeon synth style and therefore not typically what I would expect from a Lẽtum album. Consequently, 2019’s Shades Of A Lost World passed me by, where I only picked up the Lẽtum thread again with this new fifth album, which incidentally marks 20 years of activity of the project. I must then admit that The Face Of Life And Death has absolutely blown me away, and been the most listened to dark ambient album of recent times. As an initial observation, the emotively titled tracks are ample mood descriptors, such as: Shadows In The Abyss; Echoes From A Time Without End; The Hidden Vastness; A Seared Conscience; The Beauty Of Miserable Souls; Afraid Of The Void etc, and when coupled with the album title, it seems to allude to a broader concept of spiritual existentialism.
Musically speaking all of the hallmarks of sacral toned dark ambient music is here: the choral vocal textures; the ever-shifting inky black drones; the sparse doom addled rhythmics; the controlling creaking metallics; the deeply emotive orchestral melodies; the lamenting piano/church organ etc. Likewise, as far as dark ambience goes, it is an ‘all in’ scenario, where full immersion is required to appreciate the album in its totality, which spans eight tracks over 47 minutes. Without being a mere re-tread of what has come before, the lamenting minimalist soundscapes are expertly controlled and display clear compositional refinement and emotive depth in the delivery of such high calibre consecrated soundscapes. The end result is Lẽtum’s most sophisticated album to date, and now that I have since become acquainted with 2019’s Shades Of A Lost World, I would also categorise it as the strongest given it has that ‘special’ aura of an exceptional album.
Although The Face Of Life And Death does not flip the script on sacral toned dark ambience, this new recording from Lẽtum is delivered with such flair and emotive impact that it absolutely demands attention. Suitable imagery pressed as a four-panel digipack function to round out the physical presentation, for what is a highly recommended album from these quarters.
Metadevice – Turba CD New Approach Records 2021
Following the disbandment in the mid-2010’s of the highly respected Portuguese industrial group Sektor304, former member André Coelho has since busied himself with other projects, with Beyond Enclosure and Metadevice being the most visible by virtue of being released on Malignant Records. Metadevice is the newest project, with Turba being the third album since 2020.
In a general sense, Metadevice are concerned with a sound rooted in a rhythmically pummelling and broadly ‘industrial’ style, but has also incorporating wider aspects of dark ambient, death industrial and power electronics. Additionally, on selected tracks more unusual elements are introduced such as twilight-noir atmospheres, as well as battered and overblown electronica. Sonically speaking the fizzing static and harshly brooding soundscapes are further inflected with a percussive rhythmic drive, which perhaps obviously give a nod to Sektor304. Also, despite my assumption that Turba is mostly constructed with programmed equipment and studio trickery, there is still a thread of a band format rather than a straight studio project, given the use of occasional low-slung guitars, metallic percussive tones, and the general vocal approach. To further mention the vocals, they differ from earlier albums here being courtesy of collaborator Rui Almeida, and are notable as they are delivered in both Portuguese and English, and range from spoken word narrative to a more urgent half-sung style. Over Turba’s ten tracks span an hour’s playtime substantial sonic territory and harsh atmospheric spaces are covered, and while each track functions as a stand-alone composition, equally they strongly solidify as a collective album whole. To perhaps to speak of one misstep, the frenetic soloed guitar on Vectores Miragens sounds rather out of place with the balance of the album. But equally, on a more positive note, it is interesting to realise that on more than a few occasions Turba begs a comparison to the ‘power industrial electronics’ approach of Stratvm Terror, which is a stylistic approach infrequently emulated.
Packaging-wise, the CD is housed in an 8-panel digi-sleeve making a strong feature of the striking artwork, noted to also be from the hands of André Coelho. With the painting featuring an amorphous assemblage of faces, it thematically reflects the album’s concept, being: “about collective alienation, raving individualism and a deep dive into the hyperreality of our modern times”. In all aspects of sonics and visuals, Turba is very much worthy of attention.